By Frank G. Tunstall
When Mary walked up to Jesus on the outskirts of Bethany, “she fell at his feet.” What was inside her troubled soul flooded from the well of her disappointed hopes. “Lord, if you had been here,” she told Jesus, “my brother would still be alive” (John 11:32 TLB). Mary’s statement was spoken with such passion it would have put lesser men than Jesus on heavy guilt trips: Lord, you could have prevented this had you wanted to.
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled” (John 11:33 KJV). The Greek word for weeping here communicates they were sobbing and wailing. Even if there were only five people in Mary’s group, it must have been quite a sound. Their tears reached the heart of Jesus and the Lord responded with a groaning sigh (vs. 33). The Greek word translated as groaning suggests anger and the indignation that fixes blame. In this case Jesus’ feelings were obviously focused on Satan, the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). The word troubled communicates Jesus was deeply disturbed but very focused. The sense seems to be the Lord was fully aware the time had arrived and He was determined to deal death a mortal blow. Hence, He said to Mary, “Where have you laid him?”
Mary led Jesus to Lazarus’ tomb.
“Jesus wept” (John 11:35 KJV). These two words say it all. Jesus was not sobbing and wailing like Mary and the mourners; instead, the Greek word communicates He was crying softly. It is the shortest verse in the Bible, but common sense and human nature explain it easily. Out of the inner earthquake of Jesus’ churning emotions, a fountain of hot tears sprang up from the Messiah’s holy heart and began to flow out of His pure eyes (see Genesis 6:6).
Indeed! Our Lord is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15 KJV). To this day the Lord who is “acquainted with grief” has special feelings for people suffering loss (Isaiah 53:3). This includes you too, dear reader.
Jesus’ tears showed how much He cared, but His wet eyes did not blind Him, or weaken His resolve. Surely one of the greatest achievements in the ministry of Jesus was His ability to stay focused amid His own grief and disappointment, including the tsunami of satanic opposition He routinely faced. Uncontrolled anger has tripped so many people through the centuries. Even Moses disobeyed and in his fury smote the rock the second time instead of speaking to it as God told him to do (Numbers 20:8–12). Without doubt, Satan’s strategy was to make the fire so hot Jesus would blow up and do something rash. The goal was to push Jesus into committing a deed, anything, that would be independent of His Father and the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 27:39; Mark 15:32; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Peter 2:23–25).
We recognize Jesus today as our ultimate champion in part because even in His anger He never did “lose it” or snap-back in kind (Mark 3:5; Ephesians 4:26). Instead, He kept doing the mighty works only God can do as He continued His march to Calvary.
Yes, a clear benefit of suffering is it helps people see clearly what the curse of sin has done since the fall of Adam and Eve in Eden, and explains why bad things happen to good people too. Satan is alive and well, and sin is the great terminator. It kills opportunity; it destroys vision and hope; it squanders wealth; it enslaves a person’s free will; it sends every individual’s body back to dust, it opens the jaws of hell, and eternally destroys the soul of all who do not come to Jesus in repentance.
The curse of sin has also corrupted nature. This explains the aberrations of the elements—tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, mudslides, wild fires, car accidents, and the list goes on-and-on-and-on.
Little wonder Jesus’ salty tears at Bethany mingled with those of Mary and her friends, and were soaked up by the dusty limestone rocks in front of the cave. Jesus felt deeply the heart-breaking pain the sin curse demanded of His friends. And Lazarus was a special friend whom Jesus cared for with the love of God (agape).
The scene at Lazarus’ tomb in Bethany two millennia ago no doubt motivated Jesus to think again about His mission. For Him to redeem mankind and ultimately the natural order in which we all live, He had to destroy this last enemy, death itself (1 Corinthians 15:26).
Many millions of people since Adam had faced the Grim Reaper and lost. No one escaped death’s grip in the whole Old Testament era except Elijah and Enoch (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11–12). But they were enough to show the sovereign power of God could stop death in its tracks.
Please think about it with me. The time had come for Death to be thoroughly humiliated. Indeed! “In Christ, all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
Mourners—Friend or Foe?
“See how he loved him!” the Jews said. “But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:36-37).
The scene now shifts from Jesus and Mary and their hot tears to the Jewish relatives and friends who were mourning with the sisters. Grief motivated them to show their inner selves too, their way of thinking. These observers quickly understood Jesus loved Lazarus. But they too were consumed with what they thought was the big question: Why did Jesus not heal Lazarus and prevent his death? After all, they remembered He had opened the eyes of the man born blind (John 9). Like Mary, these mourners’ perception of God’s sovereign purpose that day was minimal too.
Said another way, Mary was so far down in the well of grief, it would have been useless to talk to her about God’s plans. With her mindset, if Jesus had offered the explanation of the effects of the sin curse on all people, as well as on nature, it would have flown right over Mary’s head. Nor did she perceive how transparently she was revealing the condition of her own heart; she was simply too distraught to try to think it all through. Mary just knew she hurt all over. Her friends couldn’t help her, and she was convinced Jesus had arrived too late to help her either – but she would honor His request and take Him to Lazarus’ tomb.
Have you, my reader, ever felt Mary’s despair—a sense that it is absolutely too late; that all hope is gone? (Acts 27:20).
But “too late” is not in Jesus’ vocabulary (Luke 1:37; Matthew 29:26).
Mary and Martha and the mourners were minutes away from witnessing the miracle of miracles, second only in the Bible to the Lord’s resurrection. But their eyes were much too red from crying to perceive it. Grief is a friend when it washes out the soul, but it can easily turn into a dangerous, even a monstrous emotion if it prevents our recognizing the Son of God who is standing in the middle of our crisis.
Jesus knew there is a depth of mourning capable of seeing only the present moment of a broken heart and trampled dreams. This level of grief blocks gazing on the big picture of God’s pending plans. Jesus showed His great compassion by not rebuking Mary and the other women for a lack of faith; instead, He was content to cry with them.
We can be eternally grateful, thank God, that Jesus’ tears did not blur His vision or His thinking. Instead of talking, Jesus acted. He simply proceeded to do something about Lazarus’ death. Something only God could do.
When Jesus wept, the falling tears,
In mercy flowed beyond all bounds.
When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear,
Seized all the guilty world around.
By: William Billings